For most people nursing homes are places to be avoided. The worst facilities come across as cold, damp, stale, and dreary. The building is not a home but an institution. Germs are pervasive, and the smell of cleaning chemicals ubiquitous. The hallways are filled with people in wheelchairs who may be sleeping, yelling—because they have dementia—or scooting around to find a person with whom to visit. Yes, nursing homes can be unpleasant.
Yet, they are filled with gospel opportunities. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 15,600 licensed homes in America in 2014 with 1.4 million residents. With the aging of the baby boomer population the need will increase. For the next eleven years, 10,000 people daily will turn 65. The need for long-term care is going to exponentially grow in the next 30 years.
Who is going to bring these people the gospel? As the title suggests, if you are an open-air preacher, consider ministering at your local nursing home. The fields are rich for the harvest. Here are seven reasons why you should take your gospel “combines” into a nursing home.
1. Most nursing homes have weekly worship services.
Generally, these facilities offer a Sunday service and possibly a mid-week. In my community, the churches take turns in leading the services on Sundays while the mid-week is dedicated to a few pastors. The opportunity exists and usually the nursing home staff is looking for people who can fill these slots. Just as open-air preachers go to bus stops, outdoor festivals, and sporting events to find a crowd, nursing homes provide a consistent audience to hear God’s Word.
2. It is an opportunity to preach the gospel to the lost.
No one from the nursing home staff will censure your message. Therefore, you can preach the gospel of Jesus Christ boldly. Pretend that you are on the street. Unfortunately, many of the residents are lost. They have heard a gospel of works from the Catholic church. Or they think that they are a good person. Maybe, they have not attended church for years. Due to health issues, many are on the cliff’s edge of eternity. They are one disease, one infection, one breath from standing before God. Someone must go and tell them about their need for a Savior.
Will it work? Is it too late? Are they too hardened? Absolutely not! If God gave us a spiritual resurrection while we “were dead in our trespasses and sins,” then He can save those who are almost physically dead. Preaching in this setting shows a person’s trust in God’s power to save and not man’s.
3. It keeps heresy out.
Since nursing home directors are trying to find people to fill the slots, they may without discernment allow false gospel preachers to come. Between the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, and mainline liberal denominations, there are many false gospels which could be preached. If you fill the slot, then you protect the hearers from listening to Satan’s lies.
4. It is an opportunity to encourage Christians.
Imagine, as a lover of God’s Word and Sunday worship, you become ill and are admitted to a nursing home. Consequently, you are not able to commune with the saints. Think of the discouragement that it would cause. The best of days—the Lord’s Day—has now been taken from you. Therefore, you become depressed and feel isolated from the body of Christ. Now apply the Golden Rule. Show the type of love to others that you would want shown to you.
Friends, by preaching at nursing homes, you can edify your brothers and sisters in Christ. You can bring the worship of God to them. They will be reminded of God’s promises. He has not abandoned them and has a plan even in this trial. They will hear the sweet gospel which has saved their soul and will rejoice.
5. It allows you to minister to the staff.
Besides the residents, nursing staff is usually present in the services or outside of the room. By using your outdoor preaching voice, you can evangelize the nurses and aides too. The Lord may use it to bring a younger generation to Christ.
6. There is a need for the younger generation to replace the older ministers.
From my observations, the average age of the preachers at the nursing homes is not much younger than retirement age. Those who are faithfully preaching the Word will suddenly become the residents. Who will replace them?
With the resurgence of the doctrines of grace and reformed methodology, there has not been a desire for younger pastors to go to the nursing homes. Why? They may not have seen it modeled. Or they are too busy. Or they know that it is not glamorous and will not increase attendance or giving to their churches. Or they have never considered doing it. With the increasingly aging population combined with disinterested younger pastors, there will be a shortfall of gospel ambassadors to nursing home residents.
7. It will produce the fruit of humility.
For a preacher who has spent time in his study to craft a message, it is humbling to see half of his hearers slouched over in their wheelchairs and only a few making eye contact. Nursing home ministry is not about boasting in yourself or promoting your ministry. It is hidden from the Facebook live feed or Instagram pictures. It will not make other Christians perceive you as a zealous, courageous, maverick follower of Jesus. All of these thoughts are temptations when an open-air preacher exhorts publicly on a street corner.
Instead, the nursing home will help you die to yourself. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.” You will not receive fame or street credit from other preachers. On the contrary, your actions will probably be forgotten by everyone but Jesus.
If God has stirred in you a desire to minister at nursing homes, please talk to your pastor first. Ask your pastor for advice, including if you have the maturity to do this ministry. Do not be an autonomous renegade Christian. As believers we need the accountability of elders and the local church for our soul’s well-being (Hebrews 13:17). Once you have your church’s support, then call around to the nursing homes. Remember you will be more credible to the nursing home director if you are representing an established church body and not just yourself.
May the Lord bless your efforts to sow the seed of the gospel to the young or old, healthy or sick, poor or rich.
A few months ago, I had a conversation with a woman at church. She had expressed a desire to feel closer to God. Before answering her concern, I decided to concisely share the Gospel. I explained, “Coming to Christ means confessing that you are a sinner. You are not good.” She immediately stopped me, “I am not a sinner. I am a good person. Everyone tells me that I am good, kind, and compassionate. I help people out. I am not a sinner.”
Upon hearing this blatant statement of human sinlessness, I had her read out loud from Romans 3:10-12: “‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Having read the universal truth of man’s depravity, I said, “Who is good?” She answered, “No one, but I am good.”
This is an example of “Except Me” theology. I define it as taking a promise or statement of God and inserting “except me” in order to remove yourself from its application. For this woman, Romans 3:10-12 said, “None is righteous [except me], no, not one [except me]; no one does good, not even one [except me].” She twisted the straightforward reading of the text to say the exact opposite.
Another text—which self-righteous individuals manipulate—is Ephesians 2:8-9. Since they are trusting in their good works, they distort the Bible to say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith [except me]. And this is not your own doing [except me]; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works [except me], so that no one may boast [except me].” When a person has a proud view of self, he has no need to run to Christ and hang on for dear life. Therefore, salvation to him is faith plus works and not faith alone.
For secularists, they change the Bible to deny a coming death and judgment. Many times, while preaching on campus, I have heard students laugh when I say, “You are going to die someday.” They wrongly assume that they will live forever. I will even quote to them Hebrews 9:27, but they only hear: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once [except me], and after that comes judgment [except me].” They boastfully proclaim that they are the exception to the rule. How many graveyards are filled with people who thought the same thing?
In addition to the previous examples, the convicted, depressed, and downcast can often repeat this error. For example, the man who is burdened with a heavy weight of guilt—like Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress—may not trust in God’s promise. John 3:16 becomes “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him [except me] should not perish [except me] but have eternal life [except me].” Out of prideful self-pity, he thinks, “I am outside of God’s reach. He cannot save me. I have sinned too grievously. I am forever doomed to hell.”
For the depressed man, he rejects Matthew 11:28-30 as applying to him: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest [except me]. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls [except me]. 30 For my yoke is easy [except for me], and my burden is light.” The depressed man believes that Jesus can do nothing for him. He may be able to lift the heavy burdens of others, but his miseries are too heavy even for the Lord of Glory.
Finally, the downtrodden Christian is tempted to dismiss God’s sovereignty during trials. Romans 8:28-29 does not apply to him: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good [except me], for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son [except me], in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” The downtrodden Christian believes that nothing good can come out of his trial. He goes into a “Woe is me” perpetual cycle. Instead, he should remember God’s sovereign control. Through his unbelief, he also rejects God’s purpose; He “predestined” all Christians “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” God uses the trial as a means to shape a believer into Christ-likeness. As a result, all trials are for a Christian’s good since they contribute to his spiritual growth.
What error do all of the people in these examples make? They trust in their feelings and perceptions more than the Bible. In effect, they are calling God a liar. 1 John 5:10 says, “Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar…”. Moreover, it is an attack on God’s omniscience. Those in unbelief think, “God clearly does not understand my situation. The Bible does not and cannot apply to me.” Therefore, God did not have the knowledge of all human situations before composing the text. Consequently, the Bible is not sufficient. It must be supplemented by roller coaster emotions and illogic from finite beings.
Friends, do not make the same mistake. Your situation is not special. Do not pretend that your circumstances deviate from Solomon’s teaching, “there is nothing new under the sun.” You are not the exception. On the contrary, you are the rule.
Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History and from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity. He is a PhD student in Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City and an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. In April 2016 Brandon accepted the call to pastor at Faith Baptist. He loves history and reading and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.